It’s refreshing to hear a promoter/broadcaster honestly assess his product - in any business, but especially in the hype and hyperbole world of pro wrestling.
Billionaire, television personality and potential politician Mark Cuban is the chairman of AXS TV. He’s long involved himself in the wrestling business, appearing on WWE shows (taking RKOs and getting put through a table in the process), putting Ring of Honor (ROH) on his HDNet channel last decade and now working with New Japan Pro Wrestling’s distributor TV ASAHI Corporation to create an English language show for New Japan.
With New Japan’s buzz growing louder in the States thanks to their partnership with ROH and stars like Kenny Omega, The Young Bucks and Chris Jericho, it’s an interesting time to check in with Cuban on AXS’ business. SI.com’s Justin Barrasso did just that.
AXS TV isn’t available everywhere, but it is finding footing by adding streaming services like Sling to its existing cable partners. As they’ve grown, wrestling’s delivered for them, says Cuban:
“The numbers keep on going up. Other TVs are declining, and ours are going up. That’s a good sign. There are some nights when it beats MMA, it’s doing that well.”
As such, he wants to do more with New Japan - and he’s willing to spend more to get shows on closer to when they’re produced by NJPW and ASAHI:
“We’re looking to expand it on Friday nights. We want to do more live, as opposed to the delay, and we’re talking to them about special events. We’re getting to know them better. We went from a delay to a short delay to live, so we’re going to get smarter about it.”
WWE Hall of Famer announcer Jim Ross, who is rumored to be signing a new contract with AXS to continue calling New Japan soon, is key to the product. But Cuban has a good handle on New Japan’s overall appeal:
“I even tune in to check out Jim. I can’t say I’m hardcore, but the show is more focused on the wrestling–that’s the glitz–than what you get anywhere else. The talent quality is equal to any of the other promotions, without question.”
Still, he understands that he’s not going to take down WWE with NJPW and AXS. Asked if Vince McMahon views them as a threat, he pointed to the language barrier as the main problem. Still, that doesn’t mean there’s not a market for it:
“No, he thinks we’re just little s***. We’re not a threat because of the language. That’s the biggest challenge, the language. But if you’re a purist for wrestling, and you like the action, it’s the best promotion by far. People here aren’t going to connect as directly, but if you really love wrestling, then it’s a no-brainer.”
As New Japan works to grow out of their home country, they could do with worse partners than the Shark Tank host. Their existing strategy is working well, and they have a plan to capitalize on the excitement around Wrestle Kingdom 12.
Maybe they can work their way up to medium s***?
Check out the whole interview at SI.com here.